What to do When Your Flight is Cancelled

Updated June 16, 2020.

I’m sitting at an adorable coffee shop in the San Francisco airport (SFO) as I type this. I didn’t anticipate having time to blog today, but something happened that is giving me plenty of time and blog-worthy material… our flight was cancelled!

There we were, flying along all relaxed and enjoying out flight to SFO, our flight to Burbank was “cancelled due to air traffic control conditions impacting our flight operations.” We later found out it was due to Nancy Reagan’s funeral, which the airlines should have been aware of before the day of, but that’s a problem for another day.

It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. It might even happen to you! If so, here’s the checklist:

1. Forget to Panic!

Panic fixes nothing and only causes you anxiety, so keep calm and don’t panic! There will be a solution. Sometimes you get lucky and you can be put on an earlier flight, or even a non-stop flight allowing you to avoid an tight connection! Occasionally you may have to wait until the next day to fly, but this is a last resort. It really will all work out! Don’t sweat it, just forget to panic and continue on with this list.

Don’t be blue! You’ll be on your way in no time! It just might take a while. 
Need to remain calm? Check out How to Practice Self-care on Travel!

2. Call your Airline

It may seem obvious when you’re not in the moment, but it’s probably the most important thing to do when you’re in the situation. Put the airline’s phone number in your phone before your trip. If you’re traveling internationally and cannot make a phone call from your cell phone, don’t be afraid to ask a nearby business (hotel, restaurant, etc.) if you can use their wi-fi and/or telephone to call the airline’s local office.

You may be on hold for a while, but the earlier you can call, the sooner you’ll get help. Hanging up only means you’ll be waiting longer when you call back later!

Just making a quick call!
Want to talk to a person? Check out Benefits of Airline Loyalty.

3. Go to Customer Service While You’re Calling

Double your chances! In addition to calling (not instead of calling), go to the customer service desk. Don’t walk—run! Get there as quick as you can, especially if you were supposed to be on a large plane or if there are very few flights to your destination per day. Be sure to STAY on the phone while you’re waiting in line. Don’t give up on the phone until you reach the front of the customer service line!

When you get to the front of the line, remember that the customer service representatives are just humans, and they are doing what they can. It may not seem like they’re working as fast as possible, but they will definitely help a kind person faster than a rude person. Have the attitude that you’re both on the same side and you’re finding a solution together!

You’ll get there! Just don’t give up!
More here: 5 Habits of Flexible Travelers

4. Find Your Own Options

If you’re able to do a little quick searching on your phone or a laptop, you can find out what other airlines are partnered with yours (you can fly with them if your airline doesn’t have any availability), when the next flight is scheduled (so you can suggest that flight option to customer service if you need to), and what other routes will get you to your destination (if you’re willing to make a couple of connections, you could get there sooner). The best advice I can give you for travel and in life is to be your own advocate!

Sometimes you have to find your own way!
More here: 10 Things Travelers Should Know

5. Find Your New Gate

You did it! You have your new flight! Now, immediately go find your new gate. It might be really far from where your old gate was or where you are at the customer service desk. If your new flight knows you’re coming, they may wait for you, but don’t test them!

You’ll be on your new flight in no time!
Nervous? Read How to Handle a Layover!

6. Enjoy Your Downtime

If your new flight is several hours away, make the most of it! If you’re far from home and have several hours to fill (four or more hours), go out and explore your layover city! The only true regret I have from my travels is not exploring Amsterdam during a nine hour layover traveling from Switzerland to D.C. several years ago!

While Steve and I waited out our new layover today, we had a leisurely brunch at an airport eatery, walked every corridor for exercise, and now as I write this I’m chillin’ with a latte and a cream puff. Oh, and I’m blogging, too.

The trip will be worth the wait!
Did you miss your connection? Been there. Blogged that:
What to Do When You Miss Your Flight

What’s your craziest flight cancellation story? Comment below and tell us what worked for you!

Need more? Check out my Travel Planning and Travel Tips Pages!

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7 responses to “What to do When Your Flight is Cancelled”

  1. […] BONUS TIP If you travel enough, you will encounter a cancelled flight. Here are my tips for What To Do When Your Flight is Cancelled! […]

  2. […] book difficult itineraries, and make changes for you when you missed your flight or your flight gets cancelled. This has saved us several times, but most notably that time we had to escape an […]

  3. […] things go wrong. Have a plan B if your flight gets cancelled, and I don’t recommend planning anything for your first day at your destination–it […]

  4. […] Don’t give up! If you’re already at the airport, through security, and have somewhere to be, by all means try to find out what your options are before you give up and head home. There will be another flight (perhaps not until the next day, but find out for sure), there will be some solution, and where there’s a will, there’s a way! And just so you can be as prepared as possible, here’s a post about What to do When Your Flight is Cancelled! […]

  5. […] of snapping at people when I’m feeling less than my best. Maybe your flight is delayed (or cancelled!), maybe the flight attendant is rude (and maybe she just got some devastating news before the […]

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